Saturday, October 1, 2016

A Personal Guide to Independent Online Sellers


I think it was two years ago when I started to become an independent online seller. Independent meant using free online selling platforms and managing the entire business by myself. I usually sell my own things. Clothes that don't fit anymore. (Story of my life! Hahaha) Bags I no longer use. Books I eventually disliked and other personal items.

I tried the different selling platforms. I signed up for the defunct Ayos Dito, even Multiply and Olx.ph. None worked for me. I got impatient attending endless text messages that did not convert to actual purchases. The platform that made it for me was eBay. I appreciate the more organised system, buyer and seller protection and best of all, the feedback system. 

When I first signed up in eBay I thought it might be another unsuccessful story. Much to my surprise, I was able to sell an hour after my first post. On my first few months, I have sales every week. A year after, my eBay sales slowed down. But once in a while, I will be surprised to discover that my eBay listing didn't expire. There were several bids that converted to successful sales. 

What I didn't anticipate as an online seller, I would sometimes switch on the role of an online buyer. On those times I became a buyer, I had my own share or negative experiences. I'm not sure if being an online seller became a disadvantage. It was hard for me to understand rude and inconsiderate sellers, given that I'm a seller who does everything to please my buyers.

Given all the experiences I had both as a seller and buyer, I'd like to highlight key factors that I feel defines a customer oriented seller. I wish this can also serve as a guide for anyone who have intentions of engaging in online selling.

1. Open a bank account, preferably BDO or BPI - This is a wish for all online sellers. Parang awa niyo na, open a real bank account. When I say real, it's a savings account not a reloadable cash card account. 

Some sellers use LBC Pera Padala or Palawan Express as their payment facility. While these money transfer mechanisms work, I find the transaction fees too much for the buyer. Buyers already shoulder the shipping fee. Making them incur additional expense arising from the transaction costs is too taxing already.

I highly recommended opening a real savings account from BDO or  BPI. Not that I'm promoting these two institutions, there are reasons why I prefer the two banks. We can't deny that BDO has a lot of branches. The branches are everywhere  and even works on extended hours, so this fulfills convenience. BPI is also a good option because of the absence of regional fees. If you are buying from a seller stationed in Manila and will deposit payment from Mindanao, BDO usually implements regional deposit fees. In BPI, regional transaction fees are eliminated.

Another reason why I chose the two banks, they have the best web based and app based access. Buyers who have BDO or BPI accounts can easily transfer money to another account at no cost. It can be done online or even using atm machines. On the side of the seller, accessing and monitoring transactions online for the two banks are also easy.

I also don't recommend having cash cards. Cash cards work like LBC or Palawan Express. There are transaction fees involved whenever one deposits cash to a cash card account.  

Some might argue that maintaining a bank account is costly. There is a minimum deposit to maintain. It means additional cost but then again, sellers have to bear in mind that there is no such thing as profit from zero cost. Maintaining a bank account is part of the expense or I should say, investment of being an online seller.

At some point, I can understand why some sellers can't open a bank account. They are probably students who took advantage of their spare time to earn additional money. However, if you have been selling and earning for years already... it's quite unreasonable to say that a bank account is too expensive. 

2. Answer inquiries ... whether you are a Globe / Sun / Smart subscriber - One of my pet peeves among some sellers, they don't answer SMS from other networks. They prefer to answer via Viber or direct messages in IG. The unfortunate thing is not everyone has wifi access. Some buyers, especially the older ones, prefer to communicate via SMS. You don't need to buy three different sim cards for each network. Even a prepaid sim with unlimited texts can work. I find it a little rude that some sellers reason out its additional cost. Everything goes back again to our principle, even Warren Buffet will tell you that there's no business that survived without incurring any cost at all. 

3. Admitting mistakes - Apparently, this is the hardest to ask among sellers. I've had my own share. Allow me to relate some of my experiences...

Case 1
The seller underestimated the shipping fee. I bought an item via eBay and was issued the invoice containing the total payment due. After settling the payment, the seller was asking for additional payment. Turns out, the seller underestimated the shipping fee.  It wasn't my fault as the buyer that the shipping fee was underestimated. The responsibility of the buyer is to pay on time and provide the necessary shipping details. All other things, it's the responsibility and consequence that a seller has to bear. 

Case 2
I once purchased from a seller in Instagram. I went to the usual process. Inquire-pay-confirm-wait for delivery. Weeks passed, nothing arrived. I checked the tracking number and much to my surprise, it belongs to another name. I informed the seller and she committed to make follow ups to the courier. Heck, the follow up will be useless because I was given the incorrect tracking number. At that time, I started to believe that she didn't really ship the item. I sent gentle follow ups everyday. Her reply that sealed everything, she just wanted to refund my money. She was claiming that her earnings from my purchase was not just enough to cover the stress she experienced. How selfish and self-centered. And for the record, this seller never admitted any single mistake. 

4. Don't overprice shipping fees - I once bought that Funko Pop Vinyl toy from an ebay seller stationed in Manila. The entire package stood not more than 10 inches in height. I was charged with shipping fees of above Php 250. Hell! Since I'm also a seller, I'm quite familiar with the rates imposed by different couriers. I can't accept paying more than Php 250 for a package stored in a pouch, with value of less than Php 1,000 and will be delivered in the same region. I shipped lunch totes in a small box using the same courier. I paid only Php 220, same destination, same declared value and I even used a box. I will never believe that pouches cost more than boxes. 

Sellers, let's not place so much burden to buyers. Try to be on their shoes, you surely don't want to pay for items with overpriced shipping fees.

5. Get a trusted courier - If everyone will rely to the top three couriers in the country, LBC, Air21 or 2GO, shipping fees will be expensive both for the buyers and sellers. There are other couriers that offer same service at a cheaper rate. However, I admit that this entails doing a trial and error process. What I learned over time, there are couriers that deliver faster in certain regions. I also learned that some of the cheaper couriers (LRC, A-best and the like) subcontract their shipping services via LBC or 2GO.  In my case, I usually use JRS Express. Not the lowest rates, but cheaper than LBC or Air21. For expensive items, I choose to play safe. I opt for LBC or Air21. But since this costs more, I sacrifice part of my possible earnings for the shipping fee. I don't place the entire burden to the buyer. 

6. Don't impose too much rules - I encountered this seller who posted around 2 paragraphs of terms and conditions for buyers. Nakakaloka. I didn't anymore bother to read. I decided not to buy anymore. I was trying to understand the seller. Maybe she had negative experiences with other buyers that forced her to assign rules. But for the sake of other honest buyers, it can be a real turn off. I believe sellers should not impose too much rules on buyers. At the end of the day you only need to establish the following

a. deadline of payment - how long can you wait for a buyer to settle payment
b. means of payment - where and how to pay?
c. lead time for delivery - how long can you process the item for shipping plus the estimated lead time from the courier

All other things, I think it's best to handle everything on a personal or case to case basis. When the item arrives defective, courier does not deliver within the prescribed period, buyer did not pay within the payment deadline.... this can be handled on a case-to-case basis. 

7. Don't upload photos of bogus buyers - This destroys your Instagram feed, assuming you sell items via Instagram. As one of my friends said, nakaka-jologs. Nakaka-cheap :-) For me, this practice appears like posting photos of your enemies and hated people in the gates of your respective homes. Lakas maka-chaka khan d ba? Hahahaha I have my own share of buyers who only committed to pay. The real payment didn't however happen. As much as I feel annoyed and irritated, I left matters with eBay's policies. I don't leave negative comments. I don't send hurtful SMS. I hold on to eBay's system of flagging buyers with unpaid purchases.

8. Apologize when needed - I once purchased from food items from a fellow blogger. Truth to be told, I'm not comfortable dealing with her because of a previous negative experience. This blogger actually taught me a great lesson, WYSIWYG does not always work in the blogosphere. I set aside my personal sentiments because my cousin wanted to avail the products of this blogger. I did the purchase and was hoping for a positive experience. Unfortunately, I'm quite regretful that I gave this blogger a second chance. The buying experience was not something I expected based from the positive aura she reflects on her blog. Why I ended regretting doing business with this blogger,

a. She doesn't have a savings account. Either I pay via LBC, Cebuana or those payment facilities that implements transaction costs,

b. The payment deadline was too tight. But since this blogger was selling food, I understood it because everything needs to  be prepared and ingredients have shelf life.,

c. I immediately sent my payment. While I did my part, it took her days to confirm my payment. #TurnOff Strike 1 ... ,

d. Shipping the items took more than a week.... She was blaming the courier. Alright, I understand.

e. I can understand that sometimes the courier ruins the business' lead time. What I cannot accept, this blogger / seller ignored my follow up inquiries. I once sent an SMS. No response. I sent an email. No response. When the one week time frame was over, I sent my final words via email. I told her, I wasn't expecting anything from her. She may have her own reasons but at the very least, I would have appreciated any feedback from her end.

My orders arrived a day after I sent my "final words." I sent her an email and finally, she managed to reply. The length of her reply was almost one paragraph. I was willing to forget everything when I realised, I never saw any words of apology. No "sorry" or "apologies" from the lengthy reply. She just mentioned, if she was in my shoes, she would equally feel the same. I.am.speechless.

Off topic: A friend who knew my story told me to check out a recent post from this blogger. All the more I felt bad after reading the post. No, she didn't blog about me. Haha I learned that this blogger had a bad encounter with another seller. Change roles?!?! Her sentiments were justified. But publicizing the seller who disappointed her, I find it way too low and unbecoming especially when your blog description states.... I'm a part of a community that aims to spread positivity and women empowerment.

9. When selling via Instagram, please make your accounts public and indicate prices & shipping fees - I can't understand how some sellers operating in IG choose to make their accounts with restricted or permission access. At first, I saw this as a strategy for sellers. They wanted to generate more followers and potential consumers. I find this inconvenient and time consuming, unless otherwise the IG seller is online 24/7. I also felt that making a private account is like opening a store that always bears the "CLOSED" sign. :p I also have issues with sellers who don't post prices of their items. I understood this state for some sellers selling rare and expensive pieces. But for the rest, I hate the inconvenience of having to message and wait for the response of the seller just to establish the prices and shipping fees.

10. Be friendly :) - Customer service counts! I had experiences of encountering sellers who offer the cheapest price and shipping fee. Almost perfect, not until I discovered the poorest customer service skills. Sellers who speak like they were reprimanding buyers. On the contrary, I can't count how many times I ended with a seller with relatively expensive goods, but offers the best customer service experience. Bottomline, I don't care spending for better customer service experiences.



*Photo not owned by the author*

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